Jim Nabors to call it quits on American Music Theatre stage

Vocalist and television celebrity Jim Nabors, seen here circa 1970, will visit American Music Theatre July 9.

Jim Nabors, the Southern gentleman whom Carol Burnett once famously called her "lucky charm," has decided to call it quits from show business and says he will perform what likely will be his final concert Wednesday, July 9, in Lancaster.

"I'm retired now, but I think this might be the end. I'm older and traveling is getting harder, and I'm pretty sure this is going to be my last performance," the longtime singer and television actor said in a telephone interview from his Hawaii home.

"I never thought I'd be a singer, which is why it's still amazing to me that I've ended up recording more than 40 albums," he said. "But I'm getting up there in years, which is why it feels like it's time to pack it in permanently."

Nabors, who famously portrayed the bumbling gas-station attendant Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show" and later starred in "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C," was a frequent guest star on "The Muppets" and hosted his own weekly variety program in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He now spends much of his time working on his macadamia nut plantation near Honolulu, where he also grows exotic flowers.

"Growing up in Alabama, I've always loved the process of farming," Nabors said. "There's just nothing in the world like that kind of lifestyle."

Born and raised in the northcentral Alabama town of Sylacauga, Nabors graduated from the University of Alabama before moving to New York City, where, among other things, he held a job as a typist for the United Nations in order to pay his rent.

"I was starving up there, and I needed a job. New York City is not the easiest place in the world to get started. ... And as a typist, I turned out to be pretty good, so they kept me on."

Working at the United Nations, he said, was a fascinating experience, "especially for a boy from Alabama, who suddenly got to start meeting people like Eleanor Roosevelt."

Living in New York, Nabors was able to go out on auditions and eventually got himself cast in several supporting roles - mostly playing hillbillies - in skits on the NBC variety program "The Steve Allen Show," where he became a regular cast member during the show's final season in the early 1960s.

From there, he got an invitation to audition for the role of Gomer Pyle on the CBS sitcom "The Andy Griffith Show." Nabors' antics on "The Andy Griffith Show" proved so popular that in 1964 producers decided to shoot a spinoff starring Nabors. Set on a California military base, "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." ran on CBS for five years until 1969 and chronicled the blundering mechanic's misadventures in the Marine Corps.

Meanwhile, Nabors spent much of his free time focused on his singing career, recording 28 albums and numerous singles, including a platinum record and five gold records.

A sensation in the world of inspirational and easy-listening music, Nabors is perhaps best known for his song "Back Home Again in Indiana," which he has sung 29 times at the Indianapolis 500.

"I used to sing back in my high school glee club, but I never thought I was that outstanding," Nabors said. "It's amazing to me that I've been able to record so many albums. ... But the truth is, I never wanted to be just a singer.

"I wanted to be an all-around entertainer."

Nabors doesn't yet know exactly what he will perform at his upcoming Lancaster concert, but he said he's certain it will "come together like it always has."

"It's the last thing I think about, really. I mean, I already know all the material, so picking out the songs is the last thing I do," he said. "I guess I just don't like to dwell on it too much."

Today, he's spends more time thinking about farming or visiting with friends like Carol Burnett.

"Carol and I had an act together in the early years, and in fact she asked me to be her first guest on 'The Carol Burnett Show.' To me, she's more than one of my oldest friends, she's like family."

Enjoying his retirement in Hawaii, Nabors said, is exactly where he wants to be.

"It's a little bit of paradise here. It's sunny and beautiful, and it stays that way all the time. I have friends on the East Coast who ask me, 'Don't you miss the seasons?' and the truth is, I don't.

"I always was a summer kid, even growing up back in Alabama," he said. "And a life in Hawaii ... is something I never get tired of."

Jim Nabors will perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 9, at American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Highway East. For ticket information, call 397-7700.

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